Apple’s 27-inch iMac Problem

December 14th, 2009

I suppose I was naïve when I first ordered a 27-inch iMac equipped with the optional Intel Core i7 processor, and I took the modest backorder status in stride. My opinion of the current situation is encapsulated in a short email I wrote to my friend Dennis Sellers, proprietor of the Macsimum News site:

I ordered mine with the Core i7 processor and 8GB of RAM on November 24th from MacMall.

It arrived apparently undamaged on December 2nd, the day after MacMall called me and told me to wait another week for it.

The screen was not cracked.

The image does not flicker.

There is no yellow cast.

It may well be there are some units that shipped with such problems, which may be typical of early production of any model that has a fair amount of new components.

As to blaming the ATI graphics card for the stuff that doesn’t involve broken screens, aren’t we forgetting that there’s a 21.5 inch version with the same ATI card (4670) as the cheapest 27 inch version?

Or am I just lucky?

Maybe I shouldn’t have said anything. Now I have to wait with trepidation for the screen to crack, the flickering to start and I will no longer wonder where the yellow went.

Why did I even write this letter?

On the other hand, it’s also true that delivery times for all 27-inch versions have, as of this writing, slipped to two weeks at Apple’s online store. MacMall won’t quote an official shipping date, and simply puts a “Please Call” label on the product listings for the 27-inch iMac. However, Amazon, which works with third-party resellers for some of its consumer electronics gear, states that several models, including a few custom configurations are “In Stock.”

Now Apple has actually admitted that there’s a shipping delay, telling CNET contributor Jim Dalrymple: “”The new iMac has been a huge hit and we are working hard to fulfill orders as quickly as possible. We apologize for any inconvenience or delay this may cause our customers.”

Notice that Apple doesn’t state the precise cause for the delay. They do not admit to the existence of video defects or cracked screens. While I’m not going to dismiss the possibility of the existence of those issues, it is clear that lots of people are getting these products virtually defect free, although I must admit I have been feeling the strong urge to cross my fingers periodically, and inspecting my new iMac’s screen periodically in search of a potential defect.

In the end, aside from a few defective units, the entire problem may stem from building a product whose popularity is way beyond Apple’s initial estimates. Indeed, it makes sense they may have expected the sales rush to be concentrated on the 21.5-inch model, or the cheapest 27-inch version. After all, the state of the economy is still fragile, and Apple is competing in a market segment that has a high price of admission. That they’ve done so well clearly indicates that customers are willing to stretch their budgets in order to get superior quality.

In terms of the iMac itself, that there is some defective product out there shouldn’t deter anyone from placing an order, so long as you understand that there’s going to be a shipping delay. In fact, Apple tends to err on the conservative side when quoting delivery dates. You may find that you get your new iMac faster than you expected.

In the event it is dead on arrival, or exhibits damage, Apple and third-party dealers will usually exchange your unit. You may have to wait for the replacement, but you’ll get one. There is no way you’ll be saddled with a huge investment and not get full satisfaction.

As far as screen flickering and yellow casts are concerned, the former was supposedly dealt with as part of the 10.6.2 update released last month. The release notes state: “this update addresses video playback and performance issues for iMac (21.5-inch, Late 2009) and iMac (27-inch, Late 2009) computers that may occur in some situations while AirPort is turned on.”

Within a few weeks, I expect that backorder situation will be history. You’ll be able to pick up a 27-inch iMac at most any dealer, or get a custom-built configuration within just a few days. The impact to Apple’s bottom line for this quarter is not certain. If they don’t catch up by the end of the year, there will be an unknown number of potentially lost orders, or sales that won’t be booked until the next quarter. How serious that might be is anyone’s guess, though it may not be near as bad as you might suspect.

In the end, it does appear that Apple may actually move more product this quarter than many expect. Some estimates of iPhone sales are suddenly exceeding ten million, Mac sales will likely be in the three million range once again, and the iPod will do modestly well.

And one more thing: I think the 27-inch iMac, particularly when equipped with one of those powerful new Intel quad-core processors, is one tremendous product. Current or prospective Mac Pro customers take note.

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18 Responses to “Apple’s 27-inch iMac Problem”

  1. DaveD says:

    Déjà vu? The curse of a new model. Reminded me of the long wait for my WallStreet 1 PowerBook back in 1998. I had it configured as a middle-of-the-road model. It was manufactured by Apple in Cork Ireland and loved how the machine components (memory and hard drive) were placed for easy access. Later came the issues with the screen and hinges, but luckily my machine was not affected. Only thing was that it ran quite hot.

    My MacBook purchased late last year was such a different experience. I got a new basic white model that have been around the block a few times giving me faith that all hardware issues were resolved. No shipping delay. It is still going strong after a year of heavy use.

    Thanks for sharing experiences with your iMac.

  2. Andrew says:

    I bought one of the very first blackbooks and Apple had to replace it three times to get me a good unit. By that time I’d lost confidence and sold it on eBay. I came back at Rev C and that MacBook was simply perfect, and remains so 2-years-later as my wife’s machine.

  3. dfs says:

    Gene writes about “a few defective units,” but the truth is that, while we read a lot of wailing and gnashing about this problem on the Apple Support Discussion board and elsewhere, nobody really knows how prevalent the problem is or what percentage of units are affected. On Dec. 8 I ordered a 27-in. with some BTO features. At that time, I was told delivery would be within 7 – 10 business days. Then it got moved back to Dec. 28, and I wouldn’t be surprised to be informed the delay may be longer. This MAY mean that Apple has shut down its production line until the problem has been identified and fixed. And that in turn MIGHT imply that Apple rushed these 27-in. models into production a trifle over-hastily to take advantage of the holiday season. Or not. There may be other explanations. Who knows? All I know or care is that sooner or later I’m going to get my hands on an incredibly good Mac.

    • @dfs, The actual number is difficult to estimate. Dozens of pages on a message board, usually containing multiple messages from each individual involved, aren’t sufficient to indicate a major trend. Sales of the new iMac are undoubtedly in the six figure range now, so even a few hundred or a few thousand complaints may seem substantial. Bear in mind too that support boards are heavily weighted towards people with problems. The ones who haven’t encountered any defects are too busy getting work done.

      I’m not denigrating or dismissing the complaints, however. Every defective iMac must be repaired or replaced, but at the end of the day I’m sure Apple will do the right thing.


  4. Terry says:

    I got mine two weeks ago from Apple Store pre-order. It’s an i5. NO issues. Best machine I have ever owned. Replaced a dual G5 tower and don’t miss it a bit.

  5. My experience is similar to Terry’s, although mine is an i7. Ordered it on Black Friday, got it on 12/11, and so far no problems. It took me all of 75 minutes to set up, transfer everything from my dual G5, download and install updates, change a few minor configurations, re-enter a few serial numbers, activate Rosetta for my few remaining PPC applications, and be on my way.

    Not only is it the best computer I’ve ever owned, it’s the best I’ve ever seen.

  6. Kaleberg says:

    “In the event it is dead on arrival, or exhibits damage, Apple and third-party dealers will usually exchange your unit.”

    If MacMall is willing to replace, rather than repair DOA units, that is a new policy. When I last bought through them they made me wait three weeks for a new motherboard for the defective unit, rather than simply exchanging it. They explained that if I had bought through Apple, I would have gotten a new unit, but they didn’t work that way. Since then, I’ve purchased through Apple and every unit has worked from first boot. If MacMall has changed their policy I’m glad to hear it.

    • The usual approach to such matters is case-by-case. So you may have to present your case to a higher level of support. Did your unit ship DOA, or quickly develop a problem? That may also represent the difference.

      Sometimes you might be better off taking the defective product direct to an Apple store for resolution.

      War stories are welcomed, of course.


  7. Jocca says:

    My husband got his 27″ duo core iMac in early November and it is behaving very well with no issue so far. The only problem is that I am having trouble squeezing time on it because he is spending a lot of time on it. I finally ordered my quad core model two days ago and was given a two weeks wait.

  8. Carl Hancock says:

    So far, so good! Runs like a champ no monitor issues. Running strong since Dec. 4

  9. David says:

    Sometimes it feels like being unable to afford a new i7 iMac is a good thing. By the time I’ve saved up for it, all the problems will have been solved and I’ll be able to buy with confidence.

  10. Greg says:

    I have been looking into buying a 27-inch iMac equipped with the optional Intel Core i7 processor so I certainly hope that any manufacturing problems are corrected before I place my order 🙂

  11. patrick says:

    Mine should be here tomorrow or thursday – I’ve been tracking it since it shipped from Shanghai on Dec 09 😉
    Glad to hear something other than the horror stories I’ve been gnashing my teeth on these past few weeks…

  12. Joel Hall says:

    Ordered my i7 from Apple on Black Friday, missed FedEx’s cutoff in Shanghai on the 9th, shipped on 10th, got it on the 14th- 2 days earlier than had been predicted from the moment I ordered till it was ready for FedEx. Maybe I should have paid the extra $33 for quicker shipping. ::grin:: Perhaps I’d have gotten it 3 days earlier instead of seeing it sit at the FedEx site 25 miles from home over the weekend.

    The iMac box had a minor rounding of one of the upper corners, but the computer has no marks or injuries.

    It’s been rocking since we opened it up. My son and I played X-Plane and Redline on it tonight, really an amazing screen.

    One thing about the quad core I’d heard about, but hadn’t totally understood is that most software is currently unable to use more than one. A few apps still take a long time to export videos, while I’m running at 93% idle on the CPUs. I look forward to the OS and app updates that will allow it to take advantage of the power.

    I am grateful not to have had cracked screens or other issues, my poor wife would have had to put up with me refreshing first Apple’s order status page every hour, and then the FedEx shipping status page every 20 minutes, for the next two weeks! Based on previous weeks experience, your mileage may vary.

    Ciao. Joel.

  13. dfs says:

    Footnote to what I wrote before: I ordered my 27-in iMac on Dec. 8, was told it would arrive on Dec. 28. Last night I was informed it had already shipped (from Shanghai) and will arrive on the morning of Dec. 18. From what I read on the Web I gather some other folks have had a similar experience. If Apple did suspend production to fix the display problems, as many people have imagined, then this MAY mean that the issue has been resolved. Let’s hope I’m right!

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